How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of
seven innocent North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong
April 13, 2021
If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.
Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….
But is the court paying attention?
Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….
April 9, 2012
“Where do epidemics go when they die?…. Have all the sadistic pedophiles closed down their day-care centers?”
– From “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
I asked Mary de Young, author of “The Day Care Ritual Abuse Moral Panic,” whether this epidemic might have gasped its last in Edenton as a result of “Innocence Lost.”
“Ofra Bikel certainly pounded a nail in its coffin,” De Young said. “Her excellent work on the Little Rascals case appeared after the last day care ritual abuse case was prosecuted, but she created a reason to be profoundly skeptical of all the cases that came before.
“I would give a lot of credit to Debbie Nathan (Village Voice) and Dorothy Rabinowitz (Wall Street Journal) for bringing an end to this craziness, but to be honest I think the moral panic really collapsed under its own weight – i.e., it was impossible to sustain these allegations in the absence of evidence, as well as to sustain the suspended disbelief that was required.”
Oct. 14, 2014
“(Bob) Kelly’s father-in-law, Warren Twiddy, says that blacks are the only people in Edenton who still treat him like a human being.
“One black woman, calling the whole episode a Salem witch hunt, told me she was so ashamed she had removed the Edenton license plates from her car.”
– From “Nursery witch hunt” by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Sunday Telegraph of London (Aug. 3, 1993)
Sept. 10, 2017
“With no conclusive DNA evidence, medical evidence of penetration or an eyewitness to the alleged assault, both prosecution and defense relied on expert witnesses to speak to the reliability of a young child’s testimony and whether it had been tainted by outside factors, such as how her mother had pressed her about whether she was touched… and how child advocacy center staff had interviewed her….
“ ‘Did [the 6-year-old girl] lie? I don’t know, and the problem is, neither does anyone else,’ [Marine Col. Daniel] Wilson’s civilian attorney Phil Stackhouse said in a closing argument…. Stackhouse pointed out that she had twice denied to her mother being touched by Wilson before she said he had.
“A government witness, Dr. Mark Everson, an expert on childhood trauma at the University of North Carolina, had testified that 6-year-olds are remarkably resilient to suggestion, or the planting of false memories….”
– From “Jury Deliberates Over Colonel Accused of Child Sex Assault” by Hope Hodge Seck at military.com (Sept. 9)
Yes, that’s the same Mark Everson who helped persuade a jury that Bob Kelly was guilty of 99 counts of child sexual abuse.
Everson, a UNC psychologist, disputed well-accepted research that children are suggestible and should not be repeatedly interrogated by therapists. Even 10 years later, he found it hard to believe that every Little Rascals child-witness had been badly interviewed and confused: “There’s so much smoke there, it’s hard to imagine there’s no fire.”
Update: A military court at Camp Lejeune found Col. Wilson guilty of child molestation.
Aug. 3, 2012
“Betty Ann Phillips, who had worked at the day care center, said (in the first episode of “Innocence Lost’) that she had complained to (District Attorney H.P.) Williams when she found out that indictments had been filed in her child’s name.
“She said Williams had advised her ‘not to go out on the street and say you’re unhappy with what we have done.’
“‘And then in the next sentence he said, “Because you know that all of the children are saying that you were the lookout while this was going on.”’
“In a telephone interview, Williams did not dispute that he had told Mrs. Phillips he had evidence from other children that she had acted as a lookout, but… if he made such a statement to her it was not meant as a threat.”
– The Associated Press, May 9, 1991
June 16, 2016
“We thought “satanic ritual abuse” was a wholly debunked artifact of the 1980s, but apparently there are still a few ‘therapists’ out there dedicated to ‘helping survivors’….
“According to the Satanic Temple (who aren’t really “Satanists” so much as anti-theocracy advocates), the ‘therapists’ seem to be the ones who are desperately in need of help. And perhaps having their licensure revoked….
“The Satanic Temple’s ‘Grey Faction’ – ‘dedicated to combating pseudoscience and witch-hunting conspiracism with rational inquiry’ — has posted a petition at Change.org asking the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation to investigate counselor Neil Brick….
“Brick, head of something called ‘Survivorship,’ runs conferences where some seriously weird advice is given. For instance, you shouldn’t trust your spouse, since they may actually be an agent of the mind-control conspiracy. The petition asks Massachusetts authorities to investigate a number of ‘potentially dangerous’ and ‘radically paranoid, unsubstantiated, delusional beliefs’ pushed by Brick:
Neil Brick claims to believe that he was brainwashed to be an assassin for the Illuminati/Freemasons.
Neil Brick claims that, as part of his brainwashing by the Illuminati/Masonic conspiracy, he was programmed to rape and kill “without feeling.”
Neil Brick claims that he once murdered a man in an unreported incident in Europe.
Neil Brick holds regular conferences wherein his delusional beliefs are propagated to mental health consumers by him and his co-conspiracists.
At a very recent conference (May 2016), Neil Brick expressed concern that attendees could “trigger” mind-control programming by touching their faces. Neil Brick imposed a prohibition against face-touching and asked that people sit on their hands. (Keep in mind, this is a man who claims that his own mind-control programming impels him to rape and kill. The implication is clear.)
Neil Brick continues to propagate debunked and disregarded narratives of concealed occult crimes from the height of the “Satanic Panic.”
Neil Brick demonstrates a complete lack of understanding regarding cognitive/behavioral development, claiming to believe that Masons and/or Satanic cults torture fetuses so as to begin mind-controlling them at the earliest possible stage.
– From “Mental Health Professional Thinks Someone Programmed Him To Murder. Could It Be … Satan?” at Wonkette (June 14)
Dec. 12, 2012
“In 1983, (the year of the first McMartin Preschool allegations), only 5 percent of day care providers were male. During the nine years of the moral panic, an alarming number of those male providers were accused of that new and horrific sex crime, satanic ritual abuse….
“Males left the profession in droves, seeking the comparative safety of male sex-role stereotyped employment. Day care was refeminized. Once again, primary responsibility for the care and socialization of young children was placed on the shoulders of low-paid women.”
– From “The Devil Goes to Day Care: McMartin and the Making of a Moral Panic” by Mary De Young in the Journal of American Culture (April 1, 1997)
Dec. 28, 2016
“The problem of juror pressure on a dissenting juror has long been known by defense attorneys and prosecutors.
“In a National Center for State Courts project on hung juries, researchers surveyed 367 unanimous decisions…. In nearly 40 percent of the cases at least one juror [disagreed] but went along with the majority and made the verdict unanimous….
“Research shows that dissenting jurors often go along not because they are convinced about points of evidence but because they bow to ‘normative pressure’: A lone holdout is under relentless and harsh pressure from other jurors to knuckle under. The pressure from the push for speed, the verbal battering and the threat of ostracism is virtually impossible to resist.
“The problem is made worse [in cases] when it’s impossible for a dissenting juror to say with absolute certainty whether the position of the majority is the right one and when the verdict could do horrible legal damage….”
– From “Why Zimmerman Juror B29 Believed in His Guilt But Still Voted to Acquit” by Earl Ofari Hutchinson on the Huffington Post (July 28, 2013)
Bob Kelly’s jury serves as a sad example of the contaminated chemistry of verdict making.
May 31, 2016
“A consensus is building around the need to seriously rethink the role of the prosecutor in the administration of justice. Power dynamics are unbalanced, sentencing guidelines are outdated, and old-fashioned human biases persist. And prosecutors – singularly independent agents in a justice system roiling in turmoil – have been facing growing criticism and public distrust for some time, and that disapproval is about to hit a tipping point.
“It’s time to curtail the power long held by these officers of the court as they promote justice, ensure fairness, and enhance public safety.”
– From “Are Prosecutors the Key to Justice Reform?” by Juleyka Lantigua-Williams in the Atlantic (May 18)
Is the North Carolina Bar ready to take the first step toward holding prosecutors accountable?
Aug. 9, 2012
Text of Bill Lucey’s blog item about Lew Powell’s writing on the Little Rascals case.
Retired Charlotte Observer Columnist Lew Powell Pursuing
State’s Admission of Guilt in Witch Hunt of Wrongly Accused
After being laid-off from the Charlotte Observer after 34 years in 2009, Lew Powell took the news not as the end, but as a new beginning to explore with great vigor a single issue (a colossal miscarriage of justice in his view) that has consumed him since the 1990’s. It has also freed him to spend more time on his real passion: the unique history of the Tar Heel State.
Since leaving the Observer, Powell has contributed more than 700 posts to the North Carolina Miscellany blog, a blog produced, edited, and maintained by the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which documents the history, literature, and culture of North Carolina. It is reportedly the largest state collection of its kind in the country.
Powell is exceptionally adept at unraveling the origins of symbols and traditions in North Carolina. His 34 years of newspaper experience at the Observer gives the North Carolina Miscellany a reliable voice with over three decades of institutional experience to draw from, as well as become the beneficiaries of a treasure chest of memorabilia. Powell has donated 2,698 North Carolina-related pin-back buttons, badges, ribbons, cloth swatches, promotional cards and stickers, which he collected over the years.
His unique grasp of North Carolina has resulted in books that can’t help but benefit residents of the Tar Heel State starved to discover a treasury of unique and largely unknown facts. Powell is author of the “Ultimate North Carolina Quiz Book’’, “On This Day in North Carolina’’ and “Lew Powell’s Carolina Follies’’ , a collection of 200 of his satirical year-in-review pages from The Charlotte Observer.
Despite his strong interest in North Carolina history, beginning about a year ago, Powell spends the bulk of his time researching and collecting facts on the Little Rascals Day Care Center, a facility located in Edenton, North Carolina, which had been owned by Betsy and Bob Kelly.
At the Center, Kelly was charged along with six others in 1989 with molesting 29 children attending the Little Rascals day care center. He was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to 12 life terms. Kathryn Dawn Wilson, a cook at the Center was found guilty in 1993. Both convictions, however, were overturned when the North Carolina Court of Appeals stated that there were “legal errors’’ by the prosecution. On May 23, 1997, all charges against were dismissed. Elizabeth Kelly and another defendant reached plea bargains in which they agreed to jail time served, according to reporting from The Associated Press.
The case caught the eye of Powell ever since the airing of the PBS special in which “Frontline“ producer Ofra Bikel profiled Edenton, N.C., a town in Chowan County, North Carolina (population 4,966) located in the state’s Inner Banks region. The 1991 report chronicled the way in which this small sleepy town was torn by allegations of child abuse at the Little Rascals Day-Care Center. In 1993, Frontline’s follow-up investigation raised serious questions about the evidence and the fairness of the trials. Between 1991 and 1997, “Frontline’’ devoted eight hours to the plight of the Edenton Seven, leaving many, perhaps millions, shocked at the way North Carolina so recklessly prosecuted the case.
Powell was so outraged by the case in which he insists innocent people were wrongly accused in what was nothing more than a witch hunt, has since started a blog, littlerascalsdaycarecase.org .
Powell said since October, he posts about three times a week, updating it with more information and relevant material. “Retirement has allowed me to reexamine details of the case,’’ Powell said, “to put it in the context of a decade of day-care ritual-abuse panic and to question those who invented and prosecuted the completely groundless charges.
“Most interesting to me has been the refusal of all the theoreticians and therapists behind the “moral panic” to acknowledge that “science and the law have completely discredited the interviewing techniques that led to Little Rascals,’’ Powell explained to me.
In this highly controversial case, which drew the attention of the national media, children testified they were forced to have sex with adults and each other at the day care center and other places. Tales of spaceships and trained sharks were also part of their testimony. The defense long argued the children were “coached’’ into telling manufactured stories that were more in tune with the parents “fears’’ than the reality of what actually happened.
Though the accused had their cases overturned, Powell is mainly irked that the state continues to claim they were guilty and refuses to acknowledge mistakes were made in their unsubstantiated prosecutorial methods.
One of Powell’s goals, however quixotic it may be, is to secure a statement of innocence from the State of North Carolina.
In a letter he wrote to Roy Cooper, North Carolina attorney general, Powell likens the case to the 2006 Duke Lacrosse scandal in which false charges of rape by three members of the team were made and led to the disbarment of lead prosecutor Mike Nifong. In his letter to the North Carolina Attorney General, Powell mentions the state granted the defendants a “statement of innocence.’’ Powell requested the state take similar action with those wrongly accused in the Little Rascal case.
In his letter, Powell writes: “For more than a decade, beginning in the 1980s, day care centers across the United States were victimized by a wave of wholly unsubstantiated charges of ‘ritual sexual abuse.’ The testimony of child-witnesses, corrupted by misguided therapists, resulted in dozens of convictions and incarcerations. The defendants were innocent victims of a ‘moral panic’ that bore striking similarities to the Salem witch hunts 300 years earlier.’’
Powell argues the case not only shattered innocent lives, “but also left a deep and ugly stain on the reputation of the State of North Carolina.’’
With Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift having signed a resolution in 2001, proclaiming the innocence of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, why not, Powell asks, shouldn’t the same resolution be extended to the Edenton Seven?
“Exoneration for the Edenton Seven seems as distant a prospect as ever,’’ Powell tells me. Still, despite having the former district attorney slamming the phone in his ear, when he asked him if still believed they were guilty, Powell said he continues to pursue more leads, and still has stacked in his garage 11 unopened boxes of trial transcripts.
Before landing at the Observer in 1974 as a feature writer, Powell was a reporter and editor at the Jacksonville (Fla.) Journal, and the Delta Democrat-Times. He has additionally contributed articles to the Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times op-ed page.
It was at the Observer where Powell met his wife, Dannye Romine.
Born in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, Powell grew up in a farming family in Mississippi, where he graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in accounting.
When he retired from the Observer in 2009, Powell was the paper’s Forum editor.
– Bill Lucey
August 9, 2012
Nov. 16, 2012
“In North America in the 1980s, the moral panic about organized child abuse arose in a context that included the following scares:
- “a moral panic about satanic activity;
- “a scare about missing and murdered children;
- “great public anxiety about incest, redefined as child sexual abuse during the 1970s;
- “a wave of disputed custody cases in which women accused their former husbands of sexually abusing children during court-ordered visitations;
- “self-help books by women claiming to be ‘survivors’ of incest and ritual abuse;
- “therapists’ claims that many of their adult women patients suffered from multiple-personality disorder as a result of severe childhood sexual and ritual abuse.
“Of particular importance were claims that society was in denial about widespread child sexual abuse…. Thus, claims about organized child abuse by caregivers were made in a context of claims about similar issues, and the effect of claims in one panic was to reinforce claims in another.”
– From “Wrongful Conviction and the Moral Panic About Organized Child Abuse: National and International Perspectives” by Randall Grometstein (2005)
Feb. 9, 2018
“Both prosecution and defense [in a trial in Palo Alto, Calif.] called expert witnesses to testify to ‘child sexual-abuse accommodation syndrome’….
“Roland Summit, a southern California psychiatrist, coined the term in 1983. He defined the syndrome through five categories: secrecy, helplessness; entrapment and accommodation; delayed, unconvincing disclosure; and retraction. The categories describe how victims often do not resist the abuse because of power dynamics in the relationship with an adult, often delay disclosing the abuse and may change their stories due to pressure or guilt….
“Blake Carmichael, a clinical psychologist at the University of California, Davis, testified for the prosecution that child sexual-abuse accommodation syndrome is not a diagnosis but rather a set of concepts that provide context for a child’s experience of sexual abuse. He testified that research supports Summit’s original claims.
“By contrast, William O’Donohue, a clinical psychologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, testified for the defense that Summit’s paper is ‘junk science’.
“O’Donohue co-authored a literature review of Summit’s work that determined the syndrome is not a scientific theory grounded in research. O’Donohue noted that a second article Summit published in the 1990s described child sexual-abuse accommodation syndrome as his ‘clinical opinion’ and a ‘pattern’ rather than a diagnosable condition.”
– From “Former teacher denies sex-abuse allegations” by Elena Kadvany in Palo Alto Weekly (Feb. 7)
So here we are, 35 years after Roland Summit fanned the flames in the McMartin Preschool case, and prosecutors are still using his cockamamie conceit to win over jurors. It’s not just on the internet that no bad idea ever dies….
March 21, 2016
“Once again advocates of the much discredited Satanic Abuse Panic are making claims of widespread child abuse across Britain.
“Scotland appears to have become caught up in a nationwide frenzy of superstitious irrationality. This moral panic exhibits typical clichés of sensationalist psychology. In England, the case of Carole Myers/Felstead – whose family were falsely accused of an endless variety of insane criminal acts – has comprehensively demonstrated that the existence of Satanic Cults preying on vulnerable children is a myth created on the therapist’s couch…. Real victims of abuse are being let down by focusing on this nonsense.”
– From “Recent Satanic Abuse Claims in Scotland” by the British False Memory Society (March 10)
For whatever reason, the UK seems especially resistant to having its fingers pried from the myth of “satanic ritual abuse,” which migrated from the States in the late ’80s.
July 10, 2014
“Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns about the prosecution of the Little Rascals Day Care Center personnel in Chowan County. Although this matter is outside my jurisdiction as head of the executive branch, I appreciate your interest in the administration of justice in North Carolina….
“I would suggest that it might be appropriate to wait until after the trial when all the evidence has been heard before reaching conclusions about the correctness of actions taken by (District Attorney H.P. Williams) and the court.
“North Carolina has had a long history of evenhandedness in the administration of justice, and I am confident that the tradition continues to be in effect. Nonetheless, if you wish to express your concerns directly to the District Attorney, his address is…..”
– From Gov. Jim Martin’s response to PBS viewers appalled by the first installment of “Innocence Lost” (May 7, 1991)
Last week I found in the State Archives in Raleigh about a dozen letters beseeching Gov. Martin to look into the case. Although significantly less heated than those addressing the mayor of Edenton, the letters expressed alarm about the plight of the Edenton Seven:
“As a member of Amnesty International, I write letters to officials of foreign governments, many of them without democratic governments or traditions, urging them to look into the cases of people being unjustly treated…. (In Edenton) one fact cannot be ignored: Defendants have been held in jail without a trial for close to two years….”
– Laura J. Reid, New York City
“I was disturbed by the incredibly high bonds recommended by the District Attorney and allowed by the Judge…. I would hope that you will personally intervene to request judicial review of the bonds set….”
– Steven J. Edwards, Decatur, Ga.
“As a former teacher, I can assure you that children – especially young children – can easily be coaxed, cajoled or pressured into say just about anything an adult might wish them to say.”
– S.T. Reynolds, Woodland, Calif.
I have asked Gov. Martin, now retired and living at Lake Norman, to discuss his views of the Little Rascals case both then and now. I’ll be posting his response soon.
July 19, 2016
“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations.
“Or the prosecutor may choose a more subtle course and simply have a citizen’s friends interviewed. The prosecutor can order arrests, present cases to the grand jury in secret session, and on the basis of his one-sided presentation of the facts, can cause the citizen to be indicted and held for trial. He may dismiss the case before trial, in which case the defense never has a chance to be heard.
“Or he may go on with a public trial. If he obtains a conviction, the prosecutor can still make recommendations as to sentence, as to whether the prisoner should get probation or a suspended sentence, and after he is put away, as to whether he is a fit subject for parole.
“While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst….”
Although Jackson’s cautionary words were directed toward federal prosecutors, they could hardly be more applicable to the State of North Carolina’s prosecution of the Edenton Seven. H.P. Williams Jr., Bill Hart and Nancy Lamb surely missed no chance to put forth “veiled or unveiled intimations,” to make a “one-sided presentation” or to otherwise act “from malice or other base motives.”
Jan. 7, 2013
““When I began this journey almost five years ago, I was a very strong, very optimistic, very believing and very innocent person. As I stand here today, I have become very tired, very disillusioned, very unbelieving but very much the innocent woman I was.
“When I lost my home, my job and business, my worldly possessions – then my husband and friend – I realized that what I had believed in and held onto as truth and justice no longer existed. But with the love and concern and total support of my family, my attorneys and very dear friends, I have come to realize that although prison is some place I do not want to return to, there are many worse prisons to endure out in the free world.
“I can now, for the first time in five years, look my precious daughter in the eyes and tell her that this will all be over soon and that (the) life that we have dreamed about but never dared to believe in is going to come true.
“No one in this courtroom can truly understand why I chose this pathway at this time – but I am at peace with the only true person that matters.”
– From Betsy Kelly’s statement to the court (Jan. 21, 1994), as she entered a no contest plea to 30 counts of child molestation